Sometimes, the best thing you can do as a young student just beginning your adult life is to get some well-earned perspective. Step out of your comfort zone, meet new people, and just follow the beat of your own drum by finding out what you enjoy and what makes you the best version of yourself. Gap years allow students to take a break from what often feels like a prescribed linear path that society has told many, especially high-achieving students, to follow.
However, a gap year is not just a break. It’s not meant to be a time to do nothing or slack off.
Rather, a gap year should be an intentional time of exploration, and usually travel, when you can grow, learn about new cultures and people, and gain insights about yourself and the world around you.
The operative word here is intentional. Whenever you decide to take a gap year, it is ultimately up to you and should depend on your reasons for doing it. No matter when you take a gap year, you should feel purposeful about your decision.
When to Take a Gap Year
Here are some common times of life when students and adults might take a gap year. You’ll know it makes sense when the time feels right to you, but there are pros and cons to taking a gap year, depending on your season of life at the time.
Many students choose to take a gap year before going to college. This is a great time to take a gap year if you’ve just graduated from high school and already feel burned out academically.
Many students spend so much energy worrying about succeeding in high school that going to college can feel daunting. If you need a break from academics and want to renew your love of learning by changing up your surroundings and expanding your understanding of the world, a gap year before college might be just the ticket!
Taking a gap year before college often gives you valuable experience to step into college as a more mature and more motivated student, ready for what college throws at you.
However, traveling to a new country at the young age of 18 or so can be challenging if you’re not used to traveling. If you don’t feel confident enough to travel then, you might want to wait.
You should also ensure that you can defer from your chosen college or university and aren’t messing with your future plans by taking a year away.
Taking a gap year or gap semester during college can be a great way to take a breather from your grueling college schedule and realign with your reasons for being in college in the first place.
Sometimes, traveling to a new place gives students much-needed perspective. If you still need to decide on a major, for example, and have finished all of your required general coursework, a gap year might help you determine what field of study you want to focus on for the rest of your time in college.
A gap year during college makes sense for students who see a clear breathing point in their college experience and would like to expand their horizons before finishing their degree. You should also ensure you have the funds for this excursion and won’t somehow ruin your chances of paying the rest of your tuition.
You might also want to take a gap year if you qualify for and earn a scholarship for gap year students and can thus receive help funding the experience.
Of course, based on your degree progression, you should also ensure this is the right time to take a year off and that you won’t miss out on important degree requirements.
Again, it all comes down to the best timing for you in all the ways this gap year might affect you. It is not the type of decision that can be made on a whim. And, even if you tried to “wing it” you find out how much planning is involved. So be sure it is right before setting off on your next adventure.
A gap year after college can make sense in a few different scenarios. Maybe you’re about to attend grad school or medical school and know you must take a break to avoid burnout.
Or, maybe you have a job lined up and have the opportunity to take a year off before beginning that job.
Finally, perhaps you are having difficulty finding a job and would like to expand your network and understanding to increase your chances of getting hired when you return from your gap year.
Whatever your situation, taking a gap year after college might help you reassess your future plans and even discover new passions you didn’t know you had. You never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll experience during your gap year that might change everything for you.
However, if you have a great job lined up or need to start grad school right away, don’t take a gap year that will completely ruin your momentum. Make the right choice for yourself - only you can know what is best for you.
You can also take a gap year anytime you want! Taking a gap year as an adult makes the most sense when you are in between jobs, want to change careers, need to process a major life event, or need to take a break to avoid completely burning out.
Taking a gap year as an adult does not make sense if you lose your job as a result, have kids or other responsibilities that you will be neglected during your gap year, or if you are trying to run away from something rather than toward new knowledge or understanding.
Many professionals take a sabbatical, which can mean taking a gap year for which your company pays. Or, you might decide you want to increase your experience and knowledge in a certain area to augment your career, in which case you might be able to get a grant or some other kind of sanction from your employer.
Either way, you decide to do it, college can be a small world, especially so by the time you have graduated. By setting off on a new adventure, you can really open your eyes to a world you never knew was out there.
Follow Your Intuition
When you’re deciding when to take a gap year, follow your intuition. Take time to journal, meditate, and really consider why you want to take this time away.
Ensure you seek a new experience or better awareness of yourself rather than trying to avoid something in your life. (Whatever you try to avoid will certainly still be there when you return.)
Use your gap year as an opportunity to learn, grow, and change for the better. A gap year can be a wonderful chance for reflection and renewal.
A gap year can help you make a difficult transition in life more fulfilling or help you discover which direction to take next.
Most of all, a gap year can remind you that life is not as linear as we were told. Sometimes, you need a break from the pattern you’ve been living in. NSHSS is also here to help you through any part of your college and career journey!